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Just as we close one miserable door, another one seems to open.

Last winter's flu season was the worst since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking annual severity of influenza. Earlier this month, the first CDC in-season estimate of how many people had contracted the flu this season was released, reporting between 6.2 million and 7.3 million people in the United States with the illness.

The unpredictability of the flu has always been baffling. How can one person sit amidst six sick people and avoid the illness themselves? Given our recent weather abomination and its 75-degree spin within the week, doesn't that make it likely even more of us will be sniffling and sneezing soon?

Not necessarily. Medical experts point to a number of reasons winter is more prime for viruses than any other time, and say there is no cause-and-effect between cold weather and illiness.

During the winter, we're around more people and indoors more often. Schools are in session, so groups of children share their germs, bring them home, and adults go to work indoors and the cycle continues. There is also evidence now that viruses spread more easily through the dry air.

None of us are likely to survive to a time free of viruses. But there are things we can do as attempts to slow it down. Experts agree on four keys to avoiding the flu:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Cover your face when you sneeze
  • Avoid being in the presence of sick people
  • Stay home when are sick; do not return until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours.
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Those last two are the tricky ones, aren't they? You rarely have a chance before you arrive at work for your eight or 10 or 12 hours to determine how many co-workers are ill. That's in addition to the people you come in contact with while running errands.

That's why the fourth item on the list is the most important. Sick people have to stay home, and we as a workforce and a society have to understand that people don't want to be sick. Sometimes it just happens.

Too many of us have the idea that our workplace cannot survive without our presence. We're raised on the concept that a day's work is vital, and if we're capable of standing, we have to be at work. In addition, most jobs are no longer staffed to be able to absorb even the temporary absence of a single employee. We work through our sickness because we don't want our co-workers to have to fill in for us along with doing their own jobs.

But one way we can engage in a serious battle with the flu is convincing employees that they must call in sick if they're ill. As difficult as the work might be for others in that person's absence, it's a better option than any number of co-workers having to go through the same illness. Supervisors are also going to have to accept that losing 8 or 10 hours of work from one person is not as bad as getting work from that person and losing three others in the process.

Yes, the idea of pampering ourselves through an illness is practically antitthetical to us as a country and as a species. But this is one of the things we can do that will be good for each other.

If you're sick, please stay home.

-- Lee News Service

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